A Blood Moon Waning - Why We Don't See More Land Hate in cEDH

Jake FitzSimons • June 20, 2022

Blood Moon | Illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel

Speaking ill of such a powerful card seems bold given its historical relevance throughout Modern, Vintage, and Legacy, but it's been well over a year since Blood Moon was present on the cEDH staple list. Just two months ago, Waiting for Godo, the premier Godo, Bandit Warlord list cut it. Ruric Thar lists haven't played it since March 2021. "Blood Pod", the pet name for Tymna/Tana lists that revolved around Blood Moon and Birthing Pod, scarcely exists in 2022, and what remains of it no longer runs the card.

It's not hard to see that something's crook in Tallarook* when the most popular mono-red list, a classic Gruul stax deck, and a Partner pairing literally named after Blood Moon have all abandoned the card. Anecdotally, I can only think of a handful of times I've seen it this year, and I've been terribly underwhelmed when I have.

But why? When our collective manabases are stretched so thin, when utility lands are more popular than ever and color fixing is at an all time high, why is Moon absent? The answer, I think, goes to key meta shifts that have taken place gradually over the course of the last two years.

How Good is Blood Moon at Keeping cEDH Manabases in Check?

Competitive EDH is a subformat with nearly perfect mana. Despite the singleton restriction, it's working with almost thirty years' worth of mana sources. Duals, fetches, rainbow lands with zero or negligible downside, fixers specifically designed to help multicolor decks: cEDH has it all.

It also leans heavily on Tainted Pact, not just one half of the strongest combo in the format but a valuable pseudo-tutor in its own right. Pact comes with a restrictive deckbuilding cost, mandating a true singleton manabase. If you want more than one basic of the same type, the second one better be on top of old smokey all covered in snow.

All this to say that the average cEDH mana base is more than greedy; it's gluttonous. Excluding the mono-colored, most decks will run as few basics as they possibly can. So you'd think that Blood Moon would be an incredible tool to fight the real estate that cEDH is built on. And you'd be wrong.

The Diversity of Mana Sources in cEDH

Unlike those formats, and by virtue of its singleton nature, cEDH mana sources are incredibly diverse. Beyond lands, there are a glut of rocks, dorks, rituals, and of course the real story, Treasures. Near as I'm aware, there is no such thing as a cEDH deck that relies on lands and lands alone for their mana.

Turn-one plays notwithstanding, that means Blood Moon is unlikely to ever shut off a player's access to mana entirely. Give a cEDH player a moment, and they'll vomit out a bevy of cards that produce any number of colors. That's not to say that Blood Moon won't cripple some of the mana your average cEDH deck might make, but you can be sure it won't stax out all of it.

Competitive EDH lists are also trending toward fewer and fewer lands. In the days before the plague, circa 2019, the average cEDH deck seemed to run somewhere between 30 and 31 lands, with only the bravest dipping down to 29. Today, 28-29 is the standard, with the turbo lists flirting with 27 and even 26. Even then, a small shift in total land count can't explain Blood Moon's wane by itself. Diversity of mana is a facet of the format, it isn't a recent development.

Red is Good Now

White is going through its own renaissance as we speak, but to say red got a glow-up over the last few years would be underselling it. Red has gone from a laughing stock to the proud home of the most played creature in the format and what I'd argue is the best enchantment in the format, albeit not the most popular.

Card advantage, mana advantage, and combo potential are now all within red's wheelhouse. It's remarkable to see that red now sits at 21 cards on the cEDH staple list, leagues ahead of white and only two cards behind black. This would be unthinkable in 2019. Back then, you had Wheel of Fortune, the Pyroblast & Red Elemental Blast twins, and Gamble. That was the long and short of it.

What that meant was that forcing a player's land to produce nothing but red mana was akin to making them produce nothing but colorless mana. No longer. Now, red mana has a variety of uses, not least of which is the ability to actually break out from underneath the crimson shadow that Blood Moon casts.

The Rise of Treasures

That's right folks! Another cEDH article, another section dedicated to Dockside. It's clockwork at this point. Competitive Commander's most popular creature and I'd even argue strongest card is not only red, it's just about guaranteed to make enough colored mana to let its caster do whatever they need to do despite the Blood Moon in play.

Extortionist even has company. Also sitting on the dock of the bay are Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Professional Face-Breaker, and just like their Goblin friend, they allow their controllers to produce Treasures and make mana in spite of the mountainous region behind them on the playmat. Black even gets to do this with Grim Hireling! Short of an extreme about turn, I don't think we've seen the last of Treasures, so I can only imagine this problem - or solution, depending which side of the Moon you're on - will exacerbate itself.

The Magus in the Room

What about Magus? If you cram an entire celestial phenomenon into just one dude, does it become a better card? Sort of, but not enough to make an appreciable difference. Magus of the Moon can work as a beater for Tymna the Weaver and other combat damage triggers while also being significantly easier to tutor for, making it more versatile and easier to take advantage of. It's also harder to counter.

However, it's a lot easier to remove. Creatures at a humble 2/2 aren't safe from any commonly played removal and struggle to block profitably. Magus is better, but not enough to make an appreciable difference in my mind. Winota is the exception. As a Human, Magus is more likely to come into play from a Winota trigger than being hardcast from hand. This means it isn't being paid for and isn't taking up a slot in your hand. It's also much harder to respond to, as while Winota's attack trigger will go on the stack, there's nothing to respond to by the time you've revealed Magus to your opponents. Anyone foolish enough to leave a fetchland uncracked is out of luck.

Everyone for Themselves

While cEDH shares similarities with competitive formats like Modern, Vintage, and Legacy as far as speed and manabase requirements go, its most obvious difference is also its most significant when it comes to evaluating stax effects: this is a multiplayer format.

A successful Blood Moon can be like a hard lock in a game of 1v1 Magic. If your deck can play through it and your opponent can't, congratulations, you've probably won the game unless they draw into a sneaky out. But this is Commander and there are three opponents. While it varies wildly from pod to pod and even game to game, you're unlikely to shut down all three players in unison.

One player may be leaning on red already, one player might have dorks aplenty, one might have thrown out so many rocks you've mistaken them for a car going too fast on loose gravel. But let's say you cripple one of them completely, even two. You're now the primary check and balance against the remaining player. Without another piece of stax to keep them in check or relevant interaction in hand, the onus is now on you to answer any remaining questions; the other players can't. This is true of all stax and one of the great challenges in playing the archetype, but I feel like Blood Moon exemplifies the worst of it.

A Study in Scarlet

Blood Moon is far from the only land hate piece that's fallen out of favor in cEDH, but it's an effective case study. Before moving onto land hate that fares better, I'll take one more dig at a very similar card: Back to Basics. Back to Basics shares a similar trajectory to Blood Moon, falling off the cEDH staple list a month before Blood Moon in January of 2020. I'd suggest that decline is for many of the same reasons.

One of the problems that both cards present is the inherent deckbuilding cost. If you're in the market for something that can punish the table for nonbasic lands, you don't want to rely on too many yourself. While that shouldn't be too big of an issue for mono-red or low-color decks, you have to bear in mind that Blood Moon is not an easy card to tutor for - unless of course you're in Rakdos, in which case you'll probably want a Tainted Pact manabase anyway.

Lack of tutorability is a criticism that you can level at almost anything in a low-color red deck, but the sacrifice you've made in your manabase is something you'll experience almost every game. The payoff, the Blood Moon or Back to Basics that you've made this sacrifice for, will only matter in games you actually see it. In short, the juice ain't worth the squeeze.

Better Alternatives

So I've dumped all over Moon and Basics, but what if you're absolutely desperate to hate out your opponents' lands? What if you just insist? Well... there are options.

Calling these two "land hate" is cheeky on my part, because that's not really why they're played. Even though a quarter to a third of the average cEDH manabase is made up of fetchlands and these two are exceedingly good at making them useless, it's their ability to curb any tutor that makes them so powerful. The fact they can hate out fetchlands is just icing on the cake and never the sole reason for their inclusion. Which brings me to...

Notably, this is the only card with a strict anti-land effect to make it onto the cEDH staple list. It's not just stapled to a body, it's completely asymmetrical. Archon of Emeria doesn't ask you to build your manabase any differently, and you don't have to worry about stepping on your own toes with the hand you keep. Simply play Archon and watch your opponents squirm as their fetchlands take two full turn cycles to produce their first drop of mana.

But still, the land hate isn't what makes this card so busted. I occasionally forget that's even part of the textbox. It's the Rule of Law that's so incredible, and such a coveted effect to land in a cEDH game. Slowing down your opponents' land drops is great, but it's also gravy; it's not the main meal.

I'd be remiss not to mention two dedicated anti-land cards that can put in a lot of work in the right deck, though I'd note neither has ever reached staple status. That's not to say they're bad by any means, just very specific.

Root Maze is a few leagues ahead of Blood Moon in my mind, as despite its relative uselessness as the game drags on, an opening hand with Maze and fast mana can spell death for the rest of the table. It sets itself aside from Blood Moon in this way, as the moon is unlikely to ever come down quick enough to completely cripple a player's manabase. Despite the diversity of mana sources in cEDH, opening turns tend to rely on lands to get rolling, something that Root Maze is very good at stopping. On top of all that, it hits artifacts, a much better permanent type to hamper.

Winter Orb is a different story. Historically it's seen play in mono-green decks with buckets of dorks and stax decks, but it's a rare sight these days. The exception of course is Urza, Lord High Artificer, Galazeth Prismari, and Jorn, God of Winter each capable of breaking parity on Winter Orb in their own way.

Fight Creatures and Machines, Not Lands

I should note that I say all of this begrudgingly. Despite how utterly underwhelming I think land hate has become in cEDH, Blood Moon is one of my favorite cards. There's something so simple and final about the single line that shines out of the textbox like a bright red light. It was one of the first cards I ever dropped money on, largely because I was so sick of everyone else having fetches and shocks when I was learning to play Modern in 2016. But in the interests of good deckbuilding, I can't help but shine my own light on the fall of a once great card and what it signifies about anti-land effects in general.

I think as far as stax effects go, you're much better served trying to attack artifacts, creatures, noncreatures, or even just the entire concept of doing more than one single thing with your turn. I touched on it earlier, but I think it falls down to how much less important lands are.

Or maybe I'm totally off base! I do my best to stay abreast of developments across the cEDH meta, but I'm still working with the perspective of just one man. Am I wrong? Am I underselling the power of anti-land tools? Let me know in the comments!

*With apologies to anyone from Tallarook who might be good enough to read Commander's Herald.

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.